Derek Acorah: When two worlds collide
Derek Acorah: When two worlds collide
27 April 2009
â€œI would say that the scepticism business, really, itâ€™s a minority,â€ Derek Acorah tells me after all of about three minutes. Currently on tour and playing to packed houses, spiritual medium and star of televisionâ€™s Most Haunted is nothing if not committed to his work. Two tours per year, on top of television and book-writing (â€Itâ€™s about my experiences, the places in the world Iâ€™ve found myself, and encountering spirit peopleâ€); Acorah is, by his own admission, Britainâ€™s hardest working medium. Indeed, heâ€™s immersed in his work in a way which other professionsâ€”professions which avoid, say, spiritual possessionâ€”do not usually require.
It ought perhaps come as no surprise then that, from Acorahâ€™s perspective, scepticism is indeed a minority notion: â€œAs a matter of fact, I always stay behind to do signings and have photographs and talk to people after the shows, and every one of them seem to be saying â€˜when are you coming back? when are you coming back?â€™ And I said â€˜Iâ€™ve only just finished!â€™ So thatâ€™s a good sign, you know.â€
â€œA good sign for whom?â€ I almost ask. But donâ€™t. An admission is perhaps necessary here: I am not, and have never been in contact with the spiritual world. I have, moreover, no desire to do so; I remember grandadâ€™s coin through the table trick, and thatâ€™s fine. I have, however, watched Acorahâ€™s performances on Most Haunted and giggled at his â€œpossessedâ€ growlings; Iâ€™ve enjoyed John Culshawâ€™s impressions; Iâ€™ve cheered on Harry Hillâ€”ahem, Bafta award winning Harry Hillâ€”and his ebullient mockery of the paranormal explorer.
But, despite having just driven from Inverness for tonightâ€™s show in Glasgow, Derek Acorah has been good enough to spend the best part of half an hour trying to extricate himself to a quiet spot for us to have a chat. One canâ€™t imagine he particularly enjoys talking to journalistsâ€”particularly the puffed up, self-important student sortâ€”a bunch who tend to sit staunchly on the side of aggressive scepticism where the charge of quackery can be easily levelled. It seems fair to conduct the interview with an open mind. Perhaps our two worlds arenâ€™t entirely irreconcilable?
I start with the football. But rather than grasping at the straws of forced male affability, Iâ€™m on legitimate ground here: Born Derek Johnson, Acorah, 59, began his working career not as a spiritual medium, but as a footballer with none other than Liverpool FC. Ending his sporting run at USC Lion in Australia, he returned home to Liverpool and eventually found what he terms his â€œnicheâ€ developing the spiritual powers he claims to have inherited from his grandmother, also a medium. In 1996, after years on the circuit, Acorah gave a psychic reading on the Granada programme Livetime, and a television career was launched.
â€œI was absolutely gutted when I heard the result,â€ he groans. Liverpool had last night drawn 4-4 with Arsenal in an extra-time nail-biter. â€œIt was amazing, just amazing, you know, to see them score these goals in the last couple of minutes against Chelsea and then against Arsenal and then not get the points. Ah, so disappointing. Itâ€™s just not our season.â€
That's the ice successfully broken. Iâ€™m more keen, however, to get an idea of some of the positive aspects of what he consistently refers to as his â€œworkâ€. What does one gain from an acceptance that Acorahâ€™s performances on stage and TV are, indeed, the real deal?
â€œWhen a person opens up to the possibility and the probability that [communication with spirits] is the truth, then something happens to them; a metamorphosis takes place of some kind and, you know, they start looking at things brighter, and looking at their lives in a brighter way. They start to say itâ€™s all worthwhile because at the end of the day itâ€™s nice to think that thereâ€™s somewhere else that weâ€™re going and that weâ€™re not being snuffed out at the end of this physical life.â€
Sadly, though, this affability canâ€™t last indefinitely, and itâ€™s on the sharp point of spiritual doubt that we get stuck again: â€œI canâ€™t believe the way the word scepticism is used in our country today,â€ he laments. â€œIn this present day and age, it seems, I donâ€™t know why, but most journalists or reporters they will always bring up the scepticism: â€˜itâ€™s rife, isnâ€™t itâ€™ or â€˜thereâ€™s an awful lot of itâ€™. And I say, â€˜no thereâ€™s notâ€™.â€
For â€œjournalists,â€ one might also substitute â€œscientists,â€ who have tended to have equally nasty things to say about clairvoyants: â€œWell, science only comes from calculation.â€ He enunciates this with a suitable degree ofâ€”for want of a better wordâ€”scepticism. â€œGenerally and, up to now, the scientists havenâ€™t been able to calculate...what they canâ€™t calculate they believe not to be so.
â€œScientists have not really, overall, have not really concentrated on the metaphysical as much as they have on other things. Had they done, and put the time in, who knows? Maybe they would have scientifically proven it without a shadow of a doubt by now. Itâ€™s just a matter of time. It will happen.â€
Itâ€™s a metaphysical wrangle we are unlikely to settle over the course of our somewhat more prosaic conversation. And in spite of his relative optimism here he is, understandably perhaps, quite weary of all this, remaining far more at ease when discussing his own work. And itâ€™s work heâ€™s immensely proud of. Acorah, he details, practices â€œwhat we call a disciplineâ€”a coded disciplineâ€”where I open up to the spirit world when Iâ€™m doing spiritual work. When Iâ€™m not working, in my time off, I close down and Iâ€™m just an ordinary guy.â€
I admit to the performer that I was somewhat intrigued as to whether his daily activitiesâ€”shopping, drivingâ€”were interrupted by spiritual intrusions. â€œThat would be silly,â€ he retorts. â€œIt would just be ludicrous because I wouldnâ€™t be able to communicate with the loved ones of those spirit people because they wouldnâ€™t be around.â€ Just as â€œignorantâ€ are questions regarding his ability to read minds â€“ his work concerns only â€œnatural mediumship; clairvoyance and clairordinance.â€ I donâ€™t know what the second one is, but opt not to ask. Whatever else, heâ€™s extremely knowledgeable about his field; almost schoolmasterish. I cringe slightly when, scrabbling for jargon, I use the term â€œspiritual things.â€
Of course, he should know his stuff. By most accounts, Acorah is the daddy of the profession, having trod the circuit for the best part of 35 years. While friends with fellow old-timers such as Colin Fry, heâ€™s somewhat dismissive of the young guns: â€œYou see these mediums coming out of the woodwork; theyâ€™ve been about for two or three years and their egos are so big and what have you. And they havenâ€™t walked the walk. And, you know, they wonder why they fall down after maybe one tour or two tours because they havenâ€™t got the stamina, the spiritual stamina.â€
Once in his stride, Acorah really does heft around a great deal of bravado. It's a stark contrast to the way he speaks of one of his least impressive episodes. While on a Most Haunted â€œinvestigationâ€ at Bodmin jail, footage shows apparently possessed by the spirit of a man he reveals to be â€œKreed Kaferâ€. Having seemingly summoned a particularly stroppy South African turnkey, Derek is quickly raised from his spiritual stupor by concerned crew members.
But CiarÃ¡n O'Keeffe, a lecturer in the paranormal at Liverpool's Hope University, and the showâ€™s â€œofficial scepticâ€ at the time claims to have made up the nameâ€”an anagram of â€œDerek Fakerâ€â€”and fed it as historical fact to Acorah prior to the shoot. Weeks later, this time soul-searching at Prideaux Place, Cornwall, Oâ€™Keeffe pulled the same trick with â€œRik Eedlesâ€ â€“ itself an anagram of â€œDerek Liesâ€. Acorah duly performed, passing off the fictional character as an outlaw with whom he had made contact.
Unsurprisingly, Acorah is less than enamoured when I raise this: â€œIâ€™m not prepared to talk to you or anyone else about that," he says, a little snappily. To me itâ€™s old chippie paper. That happened about four years ago. Itâ€™s not even worth talking about. I have made a statement with an explanation of that.
â€œWhy you...why journalists bring this up four and a half years on, God only knows. Maybe itâ€™s the scepticism side of you. Why donâ€™t you let it go? You know it to be nonsense. I mean, everyone in Fleet street, all the top people, know the truth. There was one red top reporter that thought he had information from someone [...] who was against me, OK, and put that and only one paper touched it. The rest of Fleet Street left it alone, because they knew it was rubbish.â€
One canâ€™t help but feel the broadsheets left the story alone for reasons other than factual inaccuracy, the uncovering of psychic tricksters having ceased to be news since Victoria ruled the waves. Still, this interviewer apparently hasnâ€™t got over it yet. And neither, it seems, has Acorah. He continues: â€œAnd the person who reported it is now no longer at that major tabloid; heâ€™s at some little shit-town where heâ€™s just...just gone missing, because he knows it was lies when he was approached.â€
Now, even the most perfunctory sleuthing reveals that the journalist who wrote the story, Matt Roper, still works for the Mail. Indeed, his latest piece, â€˜Susan Boyle: The only man to have ever kissed the Britain's Got Talent star speaks outâ€™, suggests he remains very much in the same line of work. But, in reality, thereâ€™s little point pressing this; itâ€™s too late and Iâ€™ve ruined it.
Minutes later, he calls our interview to a close. Heâ€™ll perform at Glasgowâ€™s Concert Hall this evening to crowds who gain some sort of closure or comfort from the â€œspiritual readingsâ€ he does on stage. Iâ€™ll go off and write this, knowing that Iâ€™ve failed to reconcile either of the two spheres we inhabit. And neither of us will really care.
Derek Acorah performs at the Edinburgh Playhouse, 27 June